I am a female in my late 20s, and after a series of bad relationships I believe I have finally found the man I'm going to spend the rest of my life with. The problem? I'm completely uninterested in sex.
I lost my virginity in college and had some irresponsible experiences with multiple partners. Nothing too out of the ordinary, though. I used to like sex. I used to trust men sooner than I should have. I have the STD to prove it. I also contracted another STD in my previous relationship because of an unfaithful partner. I haven't had that many partners. It just seems as if I chose the wrong ones. (Thankfully I don't have HIV.)
So today, now that I'm in a great relationship with a real life partner, I don't like sex. I never think about sex, never want sex, and am almost repulsed by it. I hate sex scenes in movies, I hate talking about sex, and I'm repulsed by our sex-obsessed society. I just feel really uncomfortable even talking about the subject. I'm not any kind of religious zealot, I am not reborn, I am just not interested.
What is my problem? My boyfriend is feeling bad about the whole situation, rightfully so. He's so patient and kind, but I know it's getting to him and I really hate hurting him. I avoid intimacy of any kind for fear it will lead to sex. He feels unwanted and unattractive (which is not the case), but I just don't enjoy sex and it's sometimes very painful. I can't seem to ever "get in the mood" and I wish I could. Alcohol helps, so it seems the only times we have sex is when I've had a few. (I'm not an alcoholic.)
I feel like a freak. I'd rather just watch a good movie cuddled up on the couch and fall asleep in my boyfriend's arms. I guess I associate sex with loveless relationships, but how do I get over this? How can I be sexual without getting drunk first?
The usual trend is to start out with a ratio of about eight parts sex to two parts relationship and slowly move toward the opposite. But you are attempting something truly novel here: You are trying to reverse-engineer your relationship backward in time toward reckless frottage.
I am going to stop kidding now. The more I read your letter, the more it sounds like something is bothering you on a deeper level. Perhaps you have been sexually abused. Maybe it happened in childhood, or maybe the experiences you had in college constitute abuse. You may be glossing over the worst of them. Were there drunken episodes, verging on rape? Were there blackouts, periods where things may have been done to you that you don't recall clearly? Did you do things that disgust you now, that you dimly or all too vividly recall? Do you have periods of deep shame, sadness, rage or crying? The kind of revulsion you describe sounds like the residual trauma that rape victims experience. The more I listen to your voice, the more it sounds like that.
Or perhaps I'm being overly dramatic. Perhaps it's no worse than you say. Have you considered the possibility that your STDs may just be making the whole thing seem yucky? What goes through your mind? Is it the STDs?
You know, it's even possible that you're just having a hangover from all the unsatisfactory experiences, that you just need a break from it all.
If it's only a lack of sex drive, it might be hormonal. And perhaps hormones have something to do with it. But the fact that you are almost repulsed by sex hints at something beyond a simple lack of drive. You mention "irresponsible" experiences but say they were "nothing too out of the ordinary." It makes me think that perhaps you are understating some incidents, that some bad things happened to you but their full impact hasn't really become clear.
I suggest that you find a trusted therapist who can walk you through it. Don't be afraid. Whatever it is, whatever you want to call it, abuse or simply a kind of sexual hangover, it's just ghosts now. Ghosts are scary, but they can't really hurt you anymore. Especially not if you look right at them.
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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.